Johanna Konta’s hopes of following Anne Keothavong as a British singles champion at the AEGON GB Pro-Series Barnstaple tournament ended with an agonising semi-final defeat today.
Konta, the British No 2, had match point in the second set against Russia’s Marta Sirotkina at the Tarka Tennis Centre.
And she also served for a place in the final in the third set, only to eventually lose a captivating match 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(5).
Sirotkina, the 22-year-old world No 171, will meet Kristyna Pliskova in tomorrow’s final. Pliskova, from the Czech Republic, progressed after Annika Beck, the reigning champion and top seed, retired from their semi-final with a back injury.
Konta was fresh after playing just four games of her quarter-final yesterday before Heather Watson withdrew because of illness. And she made a fast start this afternoon with her powerful serve taking her into a 4-1 lead.
The fourth seed held her second and third service games to love and Sirotkina won just seven points off her opponents’ serve in the first set.
Konta’s serve continued to operate well in the second set and she was a break up at 4-2 before it failed her for the first time. Sirotkina, whose solid all-round game kept her in contention, broke back in the eighth game before taking the set to a tie-break.
The Russian, who had ousted second seed and 2010 champion Alison Riske in the quarter-finals, took a 6-3 lead in the tie-break, but Konta won four points in a row and had a match point at 7-6.
She was the width of the net cord from securing a place in the final as, to gasps from the crowd, she hit a forehand into the top of the net. When she repeated that with a backhand two points later, Sirotkina had taken the match to a deciding set.
Sirotkina’s eighth double fault gave Konta the opportunity to break in the seventh game of the third set and she was serving for a place in the final at 5-3.
But Konta could not complete the job and, as Sirotkina won four successive games, it was the Russian’s turn to have that final place within her grasp. But, like Konta, she could not finish it.
Konta saved two match points before putting away a volley to get break point and finishing a terrific rally with a backhand on the line to take the semi-final to a decisive tie-break.
At 6-4 down, Konta saved another match point when she passed Sirotkina at the net. But on the next point the Russian sent a forehand down the line to finally clinch her place in the final.
Beck, the world No 53 from Germany, admitted defeat after serving three double faults in the final game of the first set, which Pliskova won 6-3.
The 21-year-old Czech player, seeded seven, is ranked 134 in the world but reached 86 in January and won her last singles tournament in France in October.
Sirotkina has been to three finals on the ITF tour this year but has yet to win one.
They have met once before, in the Emblem Health Bronx Open in New York last year, when Pliskova won 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(3).
Pliskova will have a chance to emulate Keothavong and Sweden’s Johanna Larsson by winning both the Barnstaple singles and doubles titles tomorrow.
With her British partner Naomi Broady, Pliskova beat her fellow Czechs Eve Birnerova and Renata Voracova 6-4, 7-5.
There was more semi-final disappointment for Konta after her singles exit as she and Watson lost 7-5, 6-5 to Romania’s Raluca Olary and her Austrian partner Tamira Paszek.
The singles final will be played first tomorrow at 12.45pm.